Saturday, June 09, 2012

Mageia2 Upgrade Survival Guide

It's been over a week since I upgraded my netbook to Mageia 2. I'd like to share what I've learned so far and hope it would be of use to someone. Given that my experience is on a netbook, the smaller screen size may have an influence on how well Mageia behaves. But my expectations before I upgraded was high since I had Mageia 1 and had no problems with it. I will update this from time to time as I find out more things and install Mageia on more boxes.

First Things First
Backup. No two ways about it. With the cheap network storage available, it's nuts not to back up. If you don't have 50Gb account, get an external hard disk. Just back it up somewhere. You don't want to be sorry.

The Upgrade 
If you are doing the software upgrade (as opposed to an upgrade using a DVD/CD), I strongly recommend to set to "download the files first". I once did a software upgrade on a previous version without it and upgrade broke halfway through. I had to do a disk upgrade/install to recover. Once the upgrade is done, it will ask to reboot and you will rebooted into Mageia 2.
If you are doing a disk upgrade, make sure you pay attention to the disk partition information screen. Preferably, do this while you are awake. I had a friend who thought it would be nice to start it in the middle of the night and wake up to a new system. You guessed it, he clicked through not realizing the installer had asked to delete the entire hard disk. In fact, the installer didn't do that by default. He thought he was being smart by checking the partition manually. With one eye closed.

Welcome to Gnome3
If it isn't clear already: Gnome3 is nothing like Gnome2. Here are some of the things to get used to in Gnome3
  • Everything changed - accept it and you won't go crazy. In fact, don't even think of this as an upgrade to Gnome2. Gnome2 just melted away.
  • Doing the Gnome3 jab. That is the move you do when you move your mouse to the top left hand corner of the screen to do anything: change windows, move between workspaces, run applications. Deeply reminiscent of the move rappers do to pretend scratching a record as they rap. I gave up and got a trackball instead
  • Remembering the name of the program you want to use. Because the fastest way to get to an application is to type the name of the application in the search box on the top right corner of the screen.
  • Add programs to the favorites bar for quick access. Right click on application icons to add it to favorites bar for easy access.
  • Using multiple workspaces needs getting used to. Gnome3 developers claim that workspaces are now unlimited. They are referred to as either "down" or "up" not numbered as they were before. You can move applications to other windows by right-clicking but then they can become nuisance to get to. Do the Gnome3 jab and click on the workspace. Alt-Tab will get you there too but if you are the type that sorts windows according to workspaces, alt-tab will bounce you between workspaces and it can get confusing.
  • By the way, Alt-Tab switches between programs. To switch between windows of a program, say between multiple windows of Firefox, use Alt-~ instead. Learn that.
  • The top panel can't be hidden. For a system supposed to be tablet friendly and thus limited-screen-space friendly, this is strange. I used to set my top and bottom panels to Auto-hide and thus moving my mouse to the top or bottom to reveal the panel was normal. Which essentially means that the Gnome3 UI designers made the same thing I used to on Gnome2 harder by making my target smaller.
  • Access Advanced Settings, the next step up from Systems Setting, like it is a separate application. Strange? Not really because it is a separate application. Go there to set advanced settings such as the size of fonts, what to do when you close the lid of the laptop and putting back maximize window button.
  • The over-bearingness of the Gnome3 UI designers. Talk about a nanny-state. Discard the notion of choice (and thus individuality). Nobody wants different screensavers, right? It's too difficult. Gnome3's policy is very clearly: "less choice is good" and "go somewhere else for it". Okay, I'm sorry if I said that Gnome3 removes a person's individuality. They constantly remind you of who you are at the top right corner of the screen. Bizarrely, their stand that "the options are not gone, just hidden" is an invitation to hacking. Which brings me to my next point... is you friend. 
Extensions are basically Javascript hacks to give users access to the hidden options in Gnome3. They are not part of Gnome proper so use the same judgement you use for installing browser extensions. Just go to in a browser to install individual extensions. Here are some of the the important gnome3 extensions to install to add back some of the functionality taken away.
  • alternative status menu - give me back my hibernate capability. And does anybody know whether Suspend is Sleep or Hibernate. The discussion I read from the Gnome developers clearly indicate that they thought that Suspend was a state that "you could take out your batteries" and recover from that. Clicking Suspend on my machine only put it on Sleep mode. Pull out the battery and it's a reboot. 
  • Left/Middle-message-tray - take control of the bottom right corner. You will find yourself fighting with Gnome3 over it because that is were you move the mouse to see the messages bar. The Gnome3 UI guys forgot that's also where the bottom scroll arrow button for maximized applications is. Oh wait, they removed the maximize window button.

This is a Chromium problem. Chromium users are going to feel like something is missing but I think it has something to do how Chromium deals with screen size calculations. 
  • some extensions fly off on top of the screen. They just choose to render/display above the top of the window. Unmaximize the window and move it down to see the extension. This happens even in LXDE. Or it could be just me and my small screen
  • You can counter some gnome3 insanity by installing the Chrome Tab Manager extension. Now you can switch between chromium windows faster.
Gnome Classic doesn't help
There is a Gnome Classic session option when logging in. This I believe is the Gnome Fallback mode. It's just Gnome3 with trimmings to get it to look like Gnome2. You have you Application and Places menu back. But there is a lot of strangeness abound.
  • You can add programs to the top panel but you can't remove them.
  • Move to another workspace and the bottom panel, where the workspace switcher is, goes missing. Alt-Tab to go back to another program in another workspace. 
  • Workspaces don't work. Move a window to another workspace and you can't get it back because the bottom panel is missing. 
  • Right-click on the workspace switcher (which shows 4 workspaces) and it'll say that it has only 1 workspace set up. Probably the reason behind the workspace strangeness.
Overall the experience is strange. Not strangely familiar. Simply strange. It's like somewhere where things look the same but work (or don't) in a different way. If you like living in the Twilight zone, be my guest. I think the people behind this had good intentions but it feels unfinished.

LXDE may not help either
I also installed LXDE thinking I might find refuge where Linus has. I found it to be useful and familiar. That familiarity sometimes turned in to deja vu. Sometimes, it felt like I was back in a period when I used Openbox and Enlightenment on Mandrake. Not necessarily a bad thing. Things got done and they got done faster.
However, there seems to be a significant lag in rendering right-click events. Sometimes, pop-up windows doesn't even appear. I have to hold down the right mouse button and move the mouse around where the pop-up menu should be to show it. It is a problem with rendering and liekly specific to my Intel netbook graphic chipset. I turned on Compiz Fusion and the error went away. Gnome3 also became more responsive but the Login Manager changed. I could live with that.

The conclusion is not grim. Since my netbook is my personal machine, I can tolerate everything I pointed out above. But my family Linux box is not getting an upgrade yet. There is always a cost to progress. But what kind of progress drives us back into the past?

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